In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have assembled a distinguished panel to discuss the question: What psychological impulses and neuroses prevent people from objectively considering whether or not Islam is a religion of peace? In other words: Why the rigid disinclination to even consider the evidence that suggests that someone like Geert Wilders might be right?
Our guests today are:
Roger L. Simon, the author of ten novels, including the eight prize-winning Moses Wine detective novels, which have been published in many editions and translated in over a dozen languages. He is also a screenwriter and has written for all the major Hollywood studios, including Bustin’ Loose with Richard Pryor, Scenes from a Mall with Woody Allen and the adaptation of his own The Big Fix with Richard Dreyfuss. Simon received an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of Isaac Singer’s Enemies, A Love Story in 1989. The author of Blacklisting Myself: A Hollywood Apostate in an Age of Terror, he is the co-founder and CEO of Pajamas Media.
Dr. Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of ten books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, is available now from Regnery Publishing, and he is coauthor (with Pamela Geller) of the forthcoming book The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America (Simon and Schuster).
FP: Roger Simon, Robert Spencer and Kevin Levin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Today we witness the blatant desperation in our culture and media for a “moderate Islam” — an Islam that many non-Muslims vehemently insist exists, but that mysteriously eludes them. This moderate Islam will make everything better, we are told, once the “extremists,” who are the “minority” in Islam, will be sedated. This sedation will be most easily achieved, the argument continues, when the Islamophobes stop blaming Islam after Islamic terrorists point to Islamic scriptures in explaining what inspired them to perpetrate their terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, in terms of the planet that we happen to be occupying, a “moderate Islam” is nowhere to be found; no school of Islamic jurisprudence exists that counsels Muslims to renounce the Qur’an’s teachings on Islamic supremacism and the obligation of violent jihad. And yet, to suggest the truth of this reality in our culture gets one only the accusation of being a racist and an “Islamophobe.”
Roger Simon, let me begin with you. What do you think of this phenomenon? You recently wrote a profound piece at Pajamas that touched on one of its crucial foundations. In analyzing why the likes of Glenn Beck and Charles Krauthammer have attacked Geert Wilders, you interpreted that these conservative individuals, from whom we might have expected something different on this score, are, what it all comes down to it, rejecting Wilders because they are afraid that he might be right.
Share your angle on this with us.
Simon: Although I have tremendous respect for my colleagues in this symposium, I can’t imagine anything more depressing to write about or to discuss. The world is in a horrible Catch-22 and Geert Wilders is the ultimate “canary in a coal mine” for trying to tell the truth about it.
Islam is an almost unsolvable conundrum. How do you deal with a religion with a billion adherents that is expansionist in ideology and threatens to kill its apostates? How do you get a reformation of that religion when its holy book, from which those dictums come, is reputed to be dictated verbatim by God and is therefore immutable? Talk about “inconvenient truths,” these are about as inconvenient as they get. No wonder they are buried from the discussion and ignored. We in the West live in a society that cannot even begin to wrap its mind around that. I know – it’s hard for me.
So where does that leave Wilders? I believe that consciously or unconsciously those who brand him as excessive, or even racist, are living in fear that he may be right. They have to hate Wilders, because if he is correct, their whole world disintegrates. Who would want that?
He and the small group like him have therefore morphed into our clearest contemporary examples of those poor Greek messengers to be killed for bringing the bad news. A salient recent example is Nicholas Kristof’s unhinged attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the New York Times Book Review – a supposed liberal going off on a woman who had a cliterodectomy for daring to dwell on how women were oppressed in the Islamic world. It’s almost pathological. Another recent example are the similarly unhinged attacks on Israel over the Gaza flotilla incident while completely ignoring vastly more horrific acts occurring in the Muslim world on an almost daily basis. We dare not insult them lest they go mad.
It’s almost as if the world has become a giant dysfunctional family, enabling their huge Muslim branch to remain besotted – or drugged out – on sub-Medieval ideology. And the situation is getting worse. The principle bastion of hope of reformation of the Islamic world – Turkey – made its turn back toward fundamentalism years ago now.
So again, where does that leave Wilders? One lonely canary. We have to support him, but I’m not optimistic. I hope my colleagues are.
FP: Thank you Roger Simon.
Kenneth Levin your thoughts? A species of the Oslo syndrome is involved in this phenomenon right?
Levin: I do see a form of the Oslo Syndrome operating here. In the Oslo agreements, Israel embraced Yasir Arafat and his PLO as its “peace partner” even as Arafat and those around him were making clear, in word and deed, that their goal remained Israel’s annihilation. In looking at Israel’s self-destructive Oslo policies, I discussed the phenomenon of segments within a minority population that is under siege – whether the situation be a minority marginalized, denigrated and otherwise attacked by the surrounding majority within a polity, or a small state under constant assault by larger neighbors – commonly embracing the indictments of their enemies, however bigoted or absurd or murderous those indictments. They delude themselves that by doing so, and promoting concomitant self-reform and concessions, their enemies will be appeased and grant them peace.
While most common among minorities at risk, the same phenomenon can be seen within large and powerful populations faced with new and dangerous external threats. This became obvious in the United States after 9/11.
The perpetrators of 9/11 and their myriad supporters quickly made clear their objective of imposing their Islamist rule worldwide and their comprehension of doing so as a religious duty. Yet many in America sought, and continue to seek, to recast the threat, to rationalize it, and to urge policies aimed at appeasing Islamist leaders and followers in the delusional hope of thereby extricating the nation from the dangers it faces.
Geert Wilders argues that Islamofascism derives directly from Islamic teachings, including Koranic exhortations. His movie, Fitna, advancing this argument, is unimpeachable in its citations of Islamic scripture and in its images of Islamofascism on the march. That those who oppose him are motivated in large part by a wish to appease the purveyors of the Islamist threat is indicated by the fact that the negative responses to Wilders have focused not on rebutting his arguments but on demonizing him and using anti-democratic means to silence him. As Roger Simon suggests, they are compelled to hate Wilders because they so want to cling to their delusional denial of the threat.
The ugly, perverse, self-destructive nature of the assault on Wilders, and the necessity to defend him, have been articulated by many. Particularly noteworthy is the stance of Daniel Pipes, in that Pipes disagrees with some of the substance of Wilders’ arguments, believing in the possibility of a moderate Islam, but has forcefully supported Wilders and attacked the shoddy treatment to which he has been subjected, the anti-democratic efforts to silence him and punish him through the courts, and the broad movement – as illustrated in the indictments of Wilders - to quash free discussion of the nature of the Islamist war being waged against the West. Pipes has stated that Wilders’ unique confronting of the Islamist challenge – pursued without the baggage of neo-Fascist, nativist, or conspiricist extremism that have characterized some others in Europe decrying Islamic inroads – has rendered him the most important European alive today.
Beyond the unconscionable attempts to silence Wilders, there are other indications, both in Europe and America, that the hostility directed against him is motivated primarily by a wish to deny the threats we face and to appease its agents. Thus, in both Europe and the U.S., we have a huge chorus of officials insisting Islam is a religion of peace, They insist that Islamist forces pursuing a war of world conquest have “hijacked” the religion and that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and tolerant. Yet these same officials give virtually no public support to those - too few - Muslims within their nations who at once declare themselves to be believing Muslims and do speak out forcefully against Islamofascism. On the contrary, such people are typically ignored and government outreach is almost invariably directed to individuals and groups linked to Islamist, hatred-promoting agendas.
In the U.S., for example, how much government attention or acknowledgement or support has been given to the likes of Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona physician and believing Muslim who has dedicated himself to attacking the bigoted, hateful voices that have come to dominate Islamic institutions in America? Even if one is convinced that Jasser and like-minded individuals are pursuing a hopeless course because their interpretation of Islam is so starkly at odds with the religion’s seminal texts and seminal message, one would still have to believe it makes sense for the nation to give such people all the support it can in advancing their perspectives. But in fact, Jasser and those like him have been essentially ignored by American officialdom and it is the allies of the Islamists who are courted and feted by officials at every level of government, including law enforcement agencies.
One can argue there is often a more venal motive behind this phenomenon. Saudi Arabia is the prime financier of Muslim extremism in the U.S., including of education in bigotry – particularly anti-Jewish and anti-Christian bigotry - in U.S. mosques and Islamic schools, and Saudi Arabia is pandered to because of its oil wealth and its readiness to use its prodigious financial resources to win official tolerance of its intolerant message. But if officials and others looked honestly at the existential threats we face from Islamofascism, the likelihood is they would be less inclined to politics as usual and to being swayed against defensive measures by Saudi blandishments. The impact of the Saudi role is a reflection of widespread official averting of eyes from the nature of the threat.
One can also argue that much of the Western accommodationist reaction to the Islamist threat, and desire to silence Wilders’ message, are a product of Western leftist orthodoxy. The combination of hostility towards the West, moral relativism, and boosterism regarding virtually anything non-Western or anti-Western – all seminal doctrines of the contemporary leftist catechism – inevitably leads to denial of, or excuses for, or even defense of, the Islamist challenge.
But even among those whose ideological allegiances weigh against looking honestly at the nature of the threat, there were many individuals who responded to 9/11, and the additional terror that followed on the atrocities of that day, and the declarations of Islamofascism’s leaders and minions, by reevaluating their leftist ideology and abandoning their old verities for a saner comprehension of the realities we face. Those who continue day after day to cling to their delusions regarding the nature of the threat do so by persisting, day after day – out of a desperate desire to believe reality to be otherwise, to believe the threat can be wished away or rationalized away or appeased away – to continue averting their eyes from the nature of the challenge.
FP: Robert Spencer, your thoughts on the need to hate Wilders so one can cling to one’s delusional denial of the threat we face? What do you think of Roger Simon’s and Kenneth Levin’s perspectives?
You bring a personal aspect to this as well, because your name can substitute Wilders in our own culture. You are very much hated for telling the truth that many people simply cannot accept, because the consequences are just too frightening and depressing. Share your thoughts with us on this phenomenon and also your personal experience with being a Wilders figure in our own society.
Spencer: Jamie, Roger Simon is quite right that those who call Wilders “excessive, or even racist…have to hate Wilders, because if he is correct, their whole world disintegrates.” Although I am no Geert Wilders, I’ve encountered this phenomenon many times: people essentially admitting that they don’t want to face up to the truths that Wilders and others enunciate because they believe the implications of those truths are simply too terrible to contemplate. I was told several years ago that the editorial board of a major American publication, when asked to do a profile on me and feature my writing, turned down the proposal because if what I was saying were true, “the U.S. would find itself at war with every Muslim country in the world.”
I don’t accept that as a natural outcome of what I say, but I find interesting the open avowal of the idea that what I say about Islam and jihad simply cannot be true, because if it were, the implications would be too disturbing to contemplate – and so therefore it must be false, or at least should be ignored! I encountered this again in a debate with a professor of Islamic studies at a significant American university, whose opening gambit in response to my initial presentation was to tell the audience that if what I said were true, it would be very depressing – as if that were sufficient to establish its falsity.
Contributing to the persistence of this unreality is something that Kenneth Levin alludes to – the fact that “the negative responses to Wilders have focused not on rebutting his arguments but on demonizing him and using anti-democratic means to silence him.” That demonization is a tested and true weapon in the Islamic supremacist arsenal, as well as that of the Left (here is yet more evidence confirming your own thesis, Jamie, in your excellent book, United in Hate), and it is so frequently employed because it is so very effective. There are so many spineless conformists on the Right in America – they are very easily cowed by charges that someone is a “racist,” or a “bigot,” or even worse, an “Islamophobe,” and maybe even a secret “neo-Nazi.”
It doesn’t matter if there is absolutely nothing to these charges (and in the case of Wilders and others thus charged and shunned, including my colleague and coauthor Pamela Geller and myself, there isn’t); for many prominent mainstream “conservatives,” the charges themselves are enough. They will shun any contact or association with people who have been thus tarred. They are thoughtless and cowardly enough to run in the other direction at the mere suggestion of a taint, often without even investigating the case themselves. They don’t seem to realize that by doing this they’re playing the Leftist/Islamic supremacist game — effectively allowing the opposition to define the terms of the debate, choose the playing field, and make the rules. And that, it goes without saying, is a sure path to defeat.
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